The Starfish program exists to keep families together. The program’s ultimate goal is to equip mothers who are at-risk of relinquishing their children to orphanages because they live in such extreme poverty they are unable to meet the children’s most basic needs. On a very regular basis, women show up at the gates of Tytoo Gardens with the wish to abandon their children because they are so desperate and feel they have no better option.
The Starfish program is unique as each woman in the program has her own unique, individual needs. Overall, we try to address the individual needs with the end goal being the family staying together as a unit.
We focus on four main areas:
1.) Housing: making sure the family has a safe place to live
Some women enter the program homeless, so our first priority will be finding them a place to stay. For some women, we rent a house; others we repair and fix their house; and, in extreme cases, we build an entire new house.
2.) Education: making sure each woman has an opportunity to enroll her children in school
Many of the children to Starfish women have never gone to school. If they have gone to school, it’s common they owe money to the school and the mom is having a hard time paying all of the fees. If possible, we transfer and/or enroll the child at the Community School funded by Touch of Hope since we have direct ties to the school and tuition is essentially free. If the family lives in a neighboring village and the child is too young, then he or she may be unable to attend the Community School and we then look for another option of education. School fees can cost over $100 US for enrollment, which may not seem like much, but to an unemployed woman with 3, 4, or 5 children it can be a massive amount.
We truly believe full-circle change happens when the children have an opportunity for education, making this aspect of the program very important!
3.) Employment: making a way for each woman to have an income
This part of the program is the most challenging. The unemployment rate in Haiti is estimated to be around 80% so finding employment for the women in the Starfish Program is very difficult. The Haitian economy is mostly made up in the local markets on a bartering system. A large percentage of the women are given the opportunity to complete a business training seminar done by our Haitian staff and can apply for small business loans. Anything from charcoal and rice to hygiene products and clothes are sold in a “ti commerce” (small business) While a “ti commerce” isn’t always a reliable source of income, it’s always seen as a start for some women.
4.) Spiritual transformation: making each woman know her identity in Jesus Christ
Lastly, but most importantly, we wish to see each woman come to know Jesus Christ while in the Starfish program. While most women we serve will say they know Jesus, most will admit they don’t follow Him. Every Tuesday, all participants in the group meet together and are led in worship and have a time of teaching by our Haitian staff. We hope to see that by the time they graduate from the program, they will have a deeper understanding of their identity in Jesus Christ and a have a new found freedom in that identity.
The Starfish program is the most difficult program we run through Touch of Hope, yet the most rewarding. The investment we make in each woman’s life is not taken lightly as change doesn’t happen over night in their desperate circumstances. To walk alongside these women, you can become a sponsor of the Starfish program today. Click here to learn more!